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Leave it to China to stage such a spectacular Olympics

Aug 12, 2008 7:02 PM

Burnt Offerings by Stan Bergstein | I feel like datelining this sermon Beijing, having spent the weekend there in front of my TV.

A few comments:

I have had enough Lycra for a lifetime, and more than enough talk about RZR swimsuits from the Speedo Aqualab, on both men and women. The latter is something I never thought I would say.

I now know the skyline and architecture of downtown Beijing like I do Las Vegas, and am deeply impressed. If I were going to build a house, or an office building, I would hire a Chinese architect.

The opening ceremony was the most lavish spectacular production in history, with the 20,000 participants the stars.

Women riding bicycles in the rain, and on slippery paved roads, need every one of the countless motorcycles that accompanied them at the Olympics. I kept waiting, like an auto racing fanatic, for the whole first platoon to skid out of control and crash in a tangle of wheels and bodies.

I know, along with you, that there is no way those tiny little Chinese girl gymnasts are 16 years old. The oft-repeated litany that they are trained as tots because they are fearless is a base canard. I can reveal here for the first time that they not only are not 16, but are really robots, programmed by China’s remarkable engineers.

Watching the gymnasts, men and women (and little girls), do what they did with their bodies stunned and scared me. To see those guys on the rings swing their bodies at full length and then stop in midair, using their arms as brakes, is an illusion, fakery by the skilled camera work of NBC. No one can do those things. Like the moon landing, it was all smoke and whistles, a hoax.

I was reassured, as I’m sure you must have been, with a war raging between Russia and Georgia, to see the president so relaxed at the Games.

All the doings of the weekend, of course, were dominated by Jason Lezak.

The name is not a household word.

Correct that. The name was not a household word, until Sunday.

The incredible anchor lap by this remarkable 32-year-old Californian in the men’s 4 x 100 meter freestyle was the fastest in Olympic history, and the most dramatic. It became instant lore, and will be replayed over and over, not only now but from here to eternity. Wherever and whenever young swimmers gather for serious lessons, Lezak will be there.

There was, of course, no way Lezak was going to catch France’s Alain Bernard, the world record holder at 100 meters. He confessed as much, saying, as John Crumpacker reported in the San Franciso Chronicle, "I’m not going to lie. When I flipped at the 50 and saw how far ahead he was, I thought, ‘No way.’ Then it changed. It’s the Olympics. It’s for the USA. In five seconds I was thinking all those thoughts. I got a super charge and took it from there."

If you had not seen the performance, that kind of talk might sound like patriotic hash. But not with this amazing accomplishment.

Reaching down as deep as any athlete possibly could, Lezak caught Bernard just as they arrived at the touchpad at the end of the pool, churning furiously. Lezak’s fingers got there first in one of the most dramatic performances by an athlete, American or otherwise, anywhere, any time.

When the replays are shown, they also will show Michael Phelps, having just seen his gold medal quest preserved by Lezak, shouting and screaming open mouthed, bellowing in disbelief and jubilation like an alpha male mountain gorilla proclaiming his sovereignty.

Whatever else happens, now or later, this event will be burned and etched into the memory of everyone who watched it, and particularly those who swim, whether competitively or for enjoyment.

It was a monumental athletic accomplishment.

Besides the Olympics, there were other remarkable happenings last week. One of them was Frank Stronach, the auto parts monarch who has assumed godlike stances in past performances, admitting failure to investors and stock analysts in his Magna Entertainment racing venture, which included 13 tracks in a plan in which Stronach hoped to span the time zones worldwide. He admitted that he would not be able to retire Magna’s debt – the company has lost $543.9 million since Stronach started it – by the end of the year. He has been scrambling of late to avoid delisting by the stock exchange.

Stronach said he might have to sell Santa Anita, which is like the Indian government announcing it might have to sell the Taj Mahal.

We have a suggestion. Hire Jason Lezak, Frank. After watching him swim in Beijing, we’re convinced he can do anything.